A Wrinkle in Time

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The Black Thing Symbol Analysis

The Black Thing Symbol Icon
The antagonist of A Wrinkle in Time is the Black Thing (otherwise called the Darkness or the shadow or, in its incarnation on Camazotz, IT). The Black Thing represents Evil at work in the universe: it has taken over Camazotz entirely, which is referred to as a dark planet, and Earth is currently half taken over and looks like it is covered in a "smoky haze" from afar. Tessering through the Black Thing is also extremely painful. Through the Black Thing the novel shows how evil is hard to pin down or describe (the Black Thing is rather a vague description, after all), but one knows it when one sees it, as when the children see it partly blanketing their own world.

The Black Thing Quotes in A Wrinkle in Time

The A Wrinkle in Time quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Black Thing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nonconformity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Square Fish edition of A Wrinkle in Time published in 2007.
Chapter 4 Quotes

It was a shadow, nothing but a shadow. It was not even as tangible as a cloud. Was it cast by something? Or was it a Thing in itself?...What could there be about a shadow that was terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?

Related Characters: Meg Murry (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Thing
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:

Coming off the peace and joy of the experience with the singing creatures, the characters must also experience their first taste of true evil, which is The Black Thing. It is significant that a shadow is the embodiment of evil here, as a shadow is entirely immaterial. A shadow has no "essence," – it is only appearance, and the book asks readers over and over to distrust appearances.

This quote also shows that evil, like good, is difficult to confront or account for rationally. Meg does not understand what The Black Thing is or where it came from or how it works, but that does not negate its power over her and the danger it poses to society. The book instructs readers that it would be hubris to write The Black Thing off just because it is not comprehensible, just as it is hubris to try to defeat it with reason. The Black Thing is something beyond reason that must be confronted with forces that are also beyond reason.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

The Medium lost the delighted smile she had worn till then. "Oh, why must you make me look at unpleasant things when there are so many delightful ones to see?"
Again Mrs. Which's voice reverberated through the cave. "Therre will nno llonggerr bee sso many pplleasanntt thinggss too llookk att iff rressponssible ppeoplle ddo nnott ddoo ssomethingg abboutt thee unnppleasanntt oness."

Related Characters: Mrs. Which (speaker), The Happy Medium (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Thing
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an example, again, of how focusing on appearances can lead people astray. The Happy Medium does not want to look at unpleasant things because it feels better to look at pleasant ones. Mrs. Which has the wisdom to acknowledge that even though it might be nicer to look at good things, the essences of those things are threatened by the essence of evil. Because of that, it is important to think beyond what is superficially pleasing and consider how to preserve the things we love and enjoy. As Mrs. Which suggests, this involves deep engagement with bad things. 

This scene is another one in which language is treated as more superficial than essence. Puns (like Mrs. Which appearing as a witch) are jokes about language itself, rather than about the concepts language attempts to evoke. This is also the case with The Happy Medium – Meg's mother wondered aloud in the first chapter if Meg would ever find "a happy medium." Of course, her mother's statement referred to Meg's inability to control her thoughts and actions, and the "Happy Medium" that Meg has found is a person. Language, here, is not corresponding to concepts as we thought it would, which shows that language is itself independent of the essence of the thing it represents. Later this idea will tie into the characters' inability to defeat evil through language and rationality.

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The Black Thing Symbol Timeline in A Wrinkle in Time

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Black Thing appears in A Wrinkle in Time. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...dark, terrifying shadow. When they return to the ground, Meg asks Mrs. Which if that Black Thing is what her father is fighting. (full context)
Chapter 5
Nonconformity Theme Icon
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
...have a "smoky haze" over it. This, as the children can guess, is the same Black Thing they saw covering the stars earlier. (full context)
Chapter 6
Christian References Theme Icon
...Whatsit did: she was once a star, and gave her life in the battle against the Black Thing , and is a star no longer. All the children look at Mrs. Whatsit with... (full context)
The Value of Love Theme Icon
...children. As sad as this sight is, Meg is only inspired even more to fight the Black Thing and rescue her father. (full context)
Chapter 7
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
...kind and gentle voice in their brains, though Meg senses with fear the presence of the Black Thing in him. The man's eyes have a strange red glow, and there's a light above... (full context)
Chapter 11
Deceptive Appearances Theme Icon
...to take Meg to heal her, since they reveal that they are also fighters against the Black Thing . They reveal that it is, in fact, tessering through the Black Thing that has... (full context)
Language and Knowing Theme Icon
Christian References Theme Icon
...planet Ixchel, which is in the same solar system as Camazotz, but which fights against the Black Thing . Aunt Beast then takes Meg to an open hall, where Calvin and Mr. Murry... (full context)